10/25/2014

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Tentative deal reached on veterans affairs reform

Tentative deal reached on veterans affairs reform
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., look over a letter on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24, 2014, during a news conference on the Veterans Administration. (AP Photo)
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WASHINGTON (AP) - The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have reached a tentative agreement on a plan to improve veterans' health care.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., scheduled a news conference Monday to talk about a compromise plan to fix a veterans' health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.

Miller chairs the House veterans panel, while Sanders chairs the Senate panel.

A spokesman for Sanders said Sunday the men have reached a tentative agreement. The deal requires a vote by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators, and votes in the full House and Senate.

Miller and Sanders said in a joint statement that they "made significant progress" over the weekend toward agreement on legislation to reform the Veterans Affairs Department.

The plan is intended to "make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals." Miller and Sanders said.

Few details of the agreement were released, but the bill is expected to authorize billions in emergency spending to lease new 27 clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and make it easier for veterans who can't get prompt appointments with VA doctors to get outside care.

Sanders proposed a bill last week that would cost about $25 billion over three years. Miller countered with a plan to approve $10 billion in emergency spending, with a promise of more spending in future years under the normal congressional budget process.

Miller's bill would keep most of the provisions in a Senate-passed bill and would authorize about $100 million for the Veterans Affairs Department to address shortfalls in the current budget year.

Both bills cost significantly less than bills approved last month by the House and Senate.

Negotiations had appeared in jeopardy Thursday after Miller and Sanders announced their competing plans, then held separate news conferences lashing out at each other. The men resumed talks in private Thursday night.

The House and Senate are set to adjourn at the end of the week until early September, and lawmakers from both parties have said completing a bill on veterans' health care is a top priority.
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